Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

21 June 2017

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**Syria

In a statement issued earlier this morning, the Secretary-General said that he remains deeply alarmed at the depths of human suffering being endured across Syria.  Daily life is dangerous and desperate for millions of people.  Civilians continue to be killed, injured and displaced at a terrifying rate.  He is also alarmed that places of refuge, such as hospitals and schools continue to be targeted.

The Secretary-General is particularly concerned about the perilous situation for civilians in Raqqa who are trapped and face threats from every direction.  The situation is also grim for those civilians stuck in other besieged and hard-to-reach areas, some of whom have been deprived of food and basic medical assistance for years on end.

The United Nations and humanitarian partners are doing all they can to stem the suffering in Raqqa and across Syria, often at great personal risk.

The Secretary-General made an urgent appeal to all those conducting military operations in Syria to do everything in their power to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, as fighting continues in Raqqa and elsewhere.  It is also critical for all parties to facilitate improved humanitarian access to allow aid to reach those in urgent need of life-saving assistance without delay.

**Appointments

I have two appointments to announce today.

Today, the Secretary-General is announcing the appointment of Vladimir Ivanovich Voronkov of the Russian Federation as Under-Secretary-General of the newly created UN Counter-Terrorism Office.

The Secretary-General appreciates the hard work of Member States and the many partners who share his commitment to this agenda.  The Under-Secretary-General will provide strategic leadership to UN counter-terrorism efforts, participate in the decision-making process of the UN and ensure that the cross-cutting origins and impact of terrorism are reflected in the work of the Organization.

Mr. Voronkov brings to the position more than 30 years of experience within the foreign service, working primarily on the United Nations, as well as responsibilities ranging from public diplomacy and social and economic development issues to intergovernmental affairs.

He is currently Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the International Organizations in Vienna.

And the Secretary-General is also appointing Ana Maria Menéndez of Spain as the next Senior Adviser on Policy.  She will succeed Kyung-wha Kang of the Republic of Korea, to whom the Secretary-General is grateful for her commitment and dedicated service to the Organization.

Ms. Menéndez has more than 30 years of experience in diplomatic service involving bilateral, regional and global issues, and currently serves as Spain’s Ambassador to the UN Office and other international organizations in Geneva.

Biographical notes on both individuals are available in our office.

**South Sudan

UN agencies said today that famine has eased in South Sudan after a significant scale up in the humanitarian response.  However, they warned that the situation remains dire across the country as the number of people struggling to find enough food each day has grown to 6 million — up from 4.9 million in February — and is the highest level of food insecurity ever experienced in South Sudan.

The accepted technical definition of famine no longer applies in former Unity State’s Leer and Mayandit counties, where famine was declared in February.  However, 45,000 people in former Unity and Jonglei states are still experiencing catastrophic conditions and face the prospect of starvation if humanitarian assistance is not sustained.  Meanwhile, the number of people facing emergency levels of hunger — one step below famine — is 1.7 million, up from 1 million in February.  FAO’s (Food and Agriculture Organization) Director of Emergencies, Dominique Burgeon, warned that the crisis is not over.  “We are merely keeping people alive but far too many face extreme hunger on the edge of a cliff”, he said.

And the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, will brief the Security Council this afternoon on the situation in South Sudan.

**Central African Republic

The UN Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) reports that clashes took place yesterday in Bria, in Haute-Kotto prefecture, between members of the anti-Balaka and the FPRC (Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de la Centrafrique).  UN peacekeepers intervened and exchanged fire with the armed individuals.  They secured key locations in town, including an internally displaced persons’ camp and a local hospital.  Peacekeepers also continue to maintain a robust presence and conduct patrols in key locations to deter further clashes.

The UN Mission condemns the violence and calls for an immediate cessation of violence in accordance with the agreement signed in Rome on Monday.

**Afghanistan

This morning, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Tadamichi Yamamoto, briefed the Security Council.

He said that the months since his last briefing have been unusually tense in the country, and that the deteriorating security situation has brought underlying political tensions to the surface.

He noted that there have been indications since last summer that Afghanistan’s broad political consensus was fraying, and in recent months, a growing number of political factions have begun to criticize and demand reforms to the Government.

While the existence of opposition is natural in any political scene, Mr. Yamamoto noted that the amount of mistrust is growing and there is an increasing resort to uncompromising slogans and statements that can fuel further violent protest.  He stressed that efforts at inclusiveness and building consensus for political stability are critical to address these issues.  We expect Mr. Yamamoto to come to the stakeout shortly.

**Colombia

The UN system in Colombia condemns the continuing detention of its official, held since 3 May, and demands a proof of life, as well as direct contact with those responsible for holding him.

In accordance with human rights principles and national and international law, the UN will continue to demand the immediate and unconditional release of its colleague, as well as full respect for his personal integrity.

The detained colleague has been working with dedication as a member of the UN System to serve the populations most in need.  Our priority continues to be his well-being and that of his family, as well as his safe and immediate release.

**Humanitarian Appeal

Our humanitarian colleagues released today the Global Humanitarian Overview 2017 Status Report, showing that a record number of people — 141 million people across 37 countries — are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Since the UN and partners launched the 2017 humanitarian appeal and coordinated response plans in December, international donors have generously provided $6.2 billion in funding.

However, requirements have since climbed to $23.5 billion — leaving the global appeal funded 26 per cent halfway through the year.

New disasters and deteriorating protracted emergencies are driving up the numbers, including the rapid escalation of violence in the Kasai provinces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, drought in Kenya, tropical cyclones in Madagascar and Mozambique, and flooding in Peru.

This is in addition to some 20 million people who are at risk of famine across north-eastern Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen.

**Nigeria

On Nigeria, the High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, said today that he is extremely worried that large numbers of Nigerian refugees in Cameroon are returning to north-east Nigeria into a situation which is dangerously unprepared to receive them.

Three weeks ago, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) had warned about the dire situation in the Nigerian border town of Banki, which was already hosting 45,000 people and thousands more were returning.

In the town, shelter is lacking; there is severe overcrowding; water supplies and sanitation facilities are wholly inadequate; and humanitarian aid is in short supply.

Mr. Grandi said that it is his firm view that returns are not sustainable at this time.

His agency has stepped up its efforts in a camp in Cameroon to ensure that refugees are given adequate information on the conditions in Banki before they make the choice to return.  You can read more about this on UNHCR’s website.

**Migration

In Brussels, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for International Migration, Louise Arbour, today spoke before the High-Level Conference on Migration Management at the European Parliament.

She emphasized that a crisis of migration governance at the national, regional and global levels is currently unfolding before our eyes, and stressed the need for all stakeholders to work together to increase legal pathways to regular migration and promote the successful integration of migrants, including through addressing their vulnerabilities, as well as the needs of the communities that host them.  Her remarks are available online.

**Yoga

Today is the International Day of Yoga.  The theme for this year is “Yoga for Health” and it seeks to highlight the fact that yoga can contribute to achieving an equilibrium between mind and body.

To mark the Day, you may have seen yesterday evening that there was a yoga demonstration in the North Lawn, and this morning there was a talk in the [Economic and Social Council] chamber on the Day’s theme.

**Honour Roll

Our Honour Roll is welcoming a new member today as Tonga became the 109th Member State to pay its budget dues in full.

**Press Briefings

In a short while, I will be joined by Jean-Paul Laborde, Assistant Secretary-General and Executive Director of the Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate (CTED).  He will brief you on threats stemming from terrorism.

Then tomorrow at 12:30 p.m., there will be a press briefing by Ambassador Elayne Whyte Gómez of Costa Rica, President of the UN Conference to Negotiate a Legally Binding Instrument to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons, Leading towards Their Total Elimination.

And then at 1 p.m., there will be a briefing by Jean-Luc Lemahieu, Director of Policy Analysis and Public Affairs of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

**Questions and Answers

And that is it for me.  Are there any questions?  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I just… first, on… on appointments, yesterday afternoon, the President of the Security Council, Bolivia, said they’ve returned a letter to the Secretariat about Ghassan Salamé.  Did… did you announce that or…

Deputy Spokesman:  I don’t have an announcement to make just yet.  We’re aware that some of you have seen the letter.  I do expect that we’ll have an announcement to make, although it’s not ready right now.

Question:  And is there… on the Western Sahara envoy, I wanted to ask about that again.  That seems like that was… that letter went even, you know, earlier.  Is there… can you give some idea what the hang-up is?

Deputy Spokesman:  Sometimes what we do is we negotiate to make sure that not just that Member States are happy, which is one step of the process, but also that the candidates themselves are willing to accept the job.  And sometimes we have discussions with them.  Once everything is in place, we’ll make the announcements.

Question:  And just… I mean, and maybe you’ll answer this or not, but I’d heard actually that… that Mr. [Horst] Köhler… that one of the issues is both the size of the staff that he would require and whether he would be based in Germany.  Is it fair… is it fair to ask… would he as… as the Personal Envoy of the Secretary‑General of the Western Sahara be expected to be based in Germany?  And would he get to select his own team from people that he’s known historically as a diplomat or would they be UN DPA (Department of Political Affairs) personnel?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I wouldn’t have that level of detail about the nature of the appointment.  Like I said, what we try to do is make sure that they have offices that are functional and in place as part of the process before bringing them on board.  Stefano?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Yesterday, during the press conference on the Refugee’s Day, Secretary‑General… seems the Secretary‑General, during the speech, he was talking also how much… he was criticizing develop… developed countries not doing much for the refugee, and also he touched the issue of refugee that stays in countries, they are not prepared to… to respect their rights, to take care of them.  And so, I wasn’t able to do that question when… on the microphone, but then I reached to him, and I asked him a specific question.  I say, so, do you think the agreement for example that is going on between Italy and Libya on keeping migrants during the case, you know, you can recognize very well when there are migrants or refugee in groups of migrants.  And I ask him the specific question, do you think that Libya is, in this case, disagreement; it doesn’t respect international law because Libya is not able to take care of them?  And he… he answered yes; in the case of Libya, you cannot have agreement with Libya in this moment because they will not be able to take care of the refugees.  Well, that’s what I reported because it was clear with me.  And then Stéphane [Dujarric] sent me an email what he… qualified to say that the Secretary‑General was speaking in general terms about the… the… what should be respected about the general situation, but he was not referring in it to Italy in particular.  Now, my question is, he was speaking to me specifically about Libya, the situation in Libya.  And he say, about Libya, you cannot have a situation where you keep refugee there in Libya; you stop them there because Libya is not able to take care of them.  Is this confirmed?  Does the… the Secretary‑General think that any agreement that will let refugees from any country to not be able to… to move out from Libya is something that doesn’t respect international law?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first of all, I wasn’t privy to this conversation, which happened after the press briefing had ended.  So I don’t have that on recording.  Stéphane was there, and he did tell me about it.  His impression was, as he told you, that the Secretary‑General was talking more generally about international norms.  And that is something that he also said in the briefing.  So I don’t believe, from what I know from Stéphane, that this was more specific to the question of this particular agreement of… for which he does not know the details.  [inaudible]

Question:  And I agree with that… I… I… I… I take note of that.  It was not specifically referring to the agreement with Italy.  And now my question is changed, and it’s, it first has to do with Libya, the country, does the Secretary‑General think that any situation, any agreement in this… today, that the rest of the [inaudible] that Libya should hold and take care of, I would say including migrants, migrants and refugees will be in a situation where will put the life of these people in danger and so it doesn’t respect international law?

Deputy Spokesman:  I… again, I don’t have anything particular to say about Libya.  He did make clear in his opening remarks and his responses to questions yesterday that nations have to take care to make sure that refugees and migrants’ lives are not endangered, and that needs to be a priority.  So that is where international law and international norms need to be respected.  Yes?  Oh, sorry.  Actually, you first, and then you, because your hand’s been up.

Question:  Thank you.  Dov Levy from the Jewish Press.  My question touches on terrorism in Israel.  On 4 June, the Secretary‑General strongly condemned the horrific attack by three operatives in London, in the London attack.  And on 8 June, he strongly condemned the attack in Tehran and the Parliament.  Was there any reason in particular that the… that the SG did not condemn the double terrorist attack this past Friday that left a young woman… young policewoman dead and wounded four others, including two Arab pedestrians?

Deputy Spokesman:  Not to correct you, but [on Monday], Stéphane read out a statement from the Special Coordinator, Nikolay Mladenov, that did, in fact, condemn these attacks, and he mentioned that we share that condemnation.  So that is where we stand.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I also wanted to… this was something that the Secretary‑General said on the record and… and… he said… I asked him about the chol… the seeming change in the cholera in Haiti plan.  And he said that that policy was announced by my predecessor and had two dimensions; one is fighting cholera, and the other is the possibility to support communities impacted.  It was devised not as individual support.  And just, since then, I went back and actually looked at the November A/71/620 document, and there’s a whole section on individual support.  It was called track 2B.  So I just wanted to… I mean, I… rather than…

Deputy Spokesman:  And I was here at the time.  And I remember the discussions that the former Secretary‑General, Ban Ki‑moon, had about this.  And, at that point, it was not determined whether it would be individual or community-based.  Even at that point, I believe the discussion was towards community-based.  So that’s something that’s… a process that’s been crafted.

Question:  But I guess… what I was… I wish I’d had that document in front of me when he answer… when he said that, just because there are many people that are in Haiti that have seen the new announcement made by Amina Mohammed as a retrenchment, as a taking back of that before even consulting people.  I don’t know if you’ve seen the international… you know, various… Mario Joseph and others have put out a press release; they’re protesting on Thursday.  So I wanted to just get your quote before that protest.  What is it… are they wrong that… that at one time the idea of individual reparations to people harmed by the… by cholera was in a UN document as being considered and it’s now not being considered at all?

Deputy Spokesman:  I wouldn’t say that it’s not being considered at all.  And I wouldn’t say that initially it was something that was devised as the primary idea.  This is something that’s been under consideration.  It remains under consideration, but the primary focus, for reasons that were described at the end of last year and again at the start of this year, have been community-based.  And if you look at what Ban Ki‑moon said in December, again, it mentions the community‑based approach.  Yes, Sylviane?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I have a question on the tribunal for Lebanon.  The president of the tribunal for Lebanon met with Secretary‑General here in New York.  Do you have any readout on it?  Do you have any update on the tribunal?

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  I believe the tribunal themselves are putting out… or have put out a press release about that meeting, so I would refer you to that.  Beyond that, the Secretary‑General, as you know, meets with the key officials of the various courts and tribunals of the UN system.  And this was one such meeting, and, of course, he’s been very clear about his support for the work of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.  Yes?

Question:  You don’t have readout at all…?  [inaudible]

Deputy Spokesman:  That’s the extent of it, really.

Question:  Okay.  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, please.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank… I have three brief questions.

Deputy Spokesman:  Why don’t you have one, and then we’ll go to a colleague, and then we can go back to you.  Yes?

Question:  Sorry.  Some of them you can answer yes or no.  Ghassan Salamé had been confirmed by the Security Council as a Special Envoy to Libya?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe the Security Council has been in dialogue with the Secretary‑General about this.  I don’t have a formal announcement to make just yet.  Hopefully, fairly soon, we’ll have something.

Question:  Another victim of hate crime, Nabra Hassanen, a 17‑year‑old Muslim, was murdered in Virginia going out of the mosque around 3… 3:30 in the morning on early Sunday.  Are you aware of this hate crime?  There was no statement of this or of the attack on the mosque in London.  Are you… do you follow these hate crimes against Muslims?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, we do.  And, in both cases, we’ve been concerned about the possibility of hate crimes directed against people on the basis of religion.  Obviously, these particular attacks need to be fully and thoroughly investigated.  And, of course, any hate crimes would need to be fully prosecuted.

Question:  The last question…

Deputy Spokesman:  Okay.  Let me go to someone else and then to you.  Yes, Olga?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  On this counter… counter‑terrorism offices… I’m sorry.  Since there is a new head, a new appointment, do you know when this office after all the transitional period when it will start working?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, it was only approved earlier this month, so it will take some time to get off the ground.  Our guest, Mr. Laborde, will be here to talk about counter‑terrorism efforts and can probably provide some more details on that.  Stefano?

Question:  Yes, as a follow‑up, Secretary‑General yesterday also explain again the difference between the migrants and refugee.  We know all well.  But the question is, in a situation, let’s say, like a country like Libya, thousand people arrives, what is in place, does the UN has anything, any system, to… can you explain how it works, actually?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, there’s a screening process, and there are questions asked and ways to determine who constitutes a refugee, who has a right, in other words, to asylum, who… you know, who is a migrant.  That screening process is basically one that is in the hands of the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR. [inaudible]

Question:  And it’s in place in this mom… in Libya is functioning at the moment?

Deputy Spokesman:  What?

Question:  In Libya at the moment you think is functioning well, and can you assure that there are not refugees stopped in Libya… arriving in Libya and stop and put it together… along with migrants?

Deputy Spokesman:  I would refer you to UNHCR for the in‑depth details about Libya’s situation.  Obviously, they’ve made clear their own concerns about the situation in Libya, and that’s clear on their own website.  Sylviane?

Question:  On Ghassan Salamé appointment in Libya, can you be more specific?  Is he in New York?  That will be… for this appointment, that will be the second Lebanese to head the mission in… UN Mission in Libya.  Do you have any comment or something to say about it?  [inaudible]

Deputy Spokesman:  Not at this stage, no.  As with your colleagues, I have to say that, for right now, I don’t have an official announcement to make.  Hopefully, soon, we will have something.  Yes?

Question:  The Palestine Observer Mission requested from the UN to put a banner at the doors of the UN, which says 50 years of occupation, end occupation now, or something like that, along this language.  And the banner is not there.  Can you verify that, please?

Deputy Spokesman:  I’m not aware of any of the arrangements outside the building.  I’ll have to check.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  One other thing on announcements.  It seemed from yesterday’s press conference that the only thing that was lacking to announce the repatriation of the Republic of Congo peacekeepers from [Central African Republic] for sexual abuse was communicating to the mission.  Has that communication taken place?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe we’re in the process of that.  At some point, when there’s a further development, I expect we’ll have a note to share with you.

Question:  And, also, I wanted to ask you about the… this indictment yesterday.  I tried to ask at the DESA [Department of Economic and Social Affairs] press conference earlier today, and they said it was one for the Noon Briefing.  I’m sure you’ve seen the indictment of Mr. [Hamidu] Rashid of DESA for… for not paying a domestic worker.  And I wanted to ask you, the indictment itself, not press coverage, but the actual… well, the… the press release put out by the US Attorney talks about Rashid created a sham bank account purportedly belonging to witness one, in which Rashid deposited what would have amounted to the unlawful… the lawful wage.  He then provided bank statements to the UN as proof that Rashid was paying witness one as required.  Does the UN… I wanted to sort of understand this better.  Does the UN require all of its officials to provide proof of payment of domestic workers, or was this a unique thing applied to Mr. Rashid?  What does this section mean?

Deputy Spokesman:  I wouldn’t have any comment on an ongoing case, obviously.  This is something that will play out in the courts.  I would point out, regarding Mr. Rashid and, indeed, staff, that staff wouldn’t enjoy immunity with respect to any private matter.  In this regard, all UN personnel are expected to honour their private legal obligations, including with respect to engaging foreign domestic workers.

Question:  My question, I guess… and I understand you won’t get into the… whether he’s guilty or not guilty, but just, is there since… since the US Attorney seems to believe that he was providing the UN with proof of payment, is this something that… that other officials are required to do, or was it uniquely imposed on him?

Deputy Spokesman:  Again, I wouldn’t comment on the details of an ongoing case.

Question:  I want to ask you one more thing about the Rif region of Morocco.  I’d asked Stéphane a few times.  It seemed like a comment might be coming down.  Since then, at least two… two media, one editor of Rif24 has been put under solitary confinement; another one has been sued with criminal defamation charges.  Press freedom groups like Ifex have been speaking about it.  There have been other arrests.  Is it something that… was it just… did it almost give rise to a DPA [Department of Political Affairs] comment?  Is DPA, in fact, looking at this… this… this situation which it doesn’t seem to be abating?

Deputy Spokesman:  We’re looking at the matter.  If we have any further comment, I will let you know.  And with that, unless there’s anything further, let me get to our guest.  Thanks.

For information media. Not an official record.